Recipe for a potato and porcini bake

18 Jan

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Having spent three days ill in bed, putting three potatoes into the oven felt like quite an achievement. As did the scent that filled the flat with a kind of “husky wellbeing”, even though I felt far from it. You have to marvel at the transformation of baked potatoes, and with so little effort: from cool hardness to edible, a chewy jacket and soft insides.

Every time baked potatoes are cut open with a puff of steam, a discussion takes place in our house: that of olive oil versus butter, as if we were defending our own garden. My partner Vincenzo is for olive oil, the deep-green elixir that we buy from a Sicilian friend called Pina in tin cans the size of a toddler, our biggest expense and kitchen fuel. I am not saying he is wrong. I am right, though, in believing that, when it comes to a baked potato, a slice of butter mashed into the already buttery flesh is best. Salt and pepper on top. I can measure my life in baked potatoes and still eat them in exactly the way I did as a child, the ritualistic mashing and scooping motion, the extra butter slid into the empty skin, the final pinch to close it, like a taco.

Recovering appetites are cautious and specific, and the following day it is potatoes again: patate al latte e burro, a northern-Italian dish in which three dependable ingredients work some magic together in a sort of stove-top dauphinoise. There is something tender about the whole process here: the purity of colour, the nurturing associations, the way the milk is assimilated by the other ingredients like a kid gulping a glassful (although I was never that kid). Milk rounds the edges of whatever it is cooking, be that rice, pasta, fish or potatoes, leaving just enough creamy sauce to feel like a luxury. Always on the lookout for similarities, I appreciate the way both English and Italian recipes pair nutmeg with such dishes, its simultaneously spiced and fresh flavour cutting through the lactic sensibleness like a naughty joke. The porcini are my addition.

The recipe: soak 20g dried porcini in 150ml warm water for 20 minutes, then drain, saving the liquid. Peel 800g potatoes – ideally more waxy than floury, not too large and evenly sized – then slice into 5mm-thick rounds. Peel and cut two sweet white onions or a bunch of spring onions. In a deep frying pan over a medium flame, warm three tablespoons of olive oil, add the onion and a tiny pinch of salt, stir and cook for a few minutes. Cover the onion with a layer of potatoes, then the porcini, then another layer of potatoes. Sprinkle with salt, black pepper and nutmeg, then cover with whole milk and some of the porcini soaking liquid and bring to a steady simmer for 15 minutes. Dot with 40g butter in nuggets, then lower the heat and cook until the potatoes are tender and bathed in a creamy sauce; keep an eye because, towards the end, that sauce evaporates with disconcerting speed.

Scatter with chopped parsley, and not just for colour: its bright, grassy flavour is welcome, too. Let the pan sit for a few minutes before serving with a crisp salad or smoked fish, grilled bacon or a fried egg, or both: a combination that proves – to steal a line from food writer Niki Segnit – you don’t need to be an oligarch to eat like a king.

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Recipe for scones with green kiwi fruit jam

20 Dec

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The humble kiwi fruit occupies an unfairly neglected position in the minds of most home cooks. Before a 20th-century rebranding by savvy New Zealand farmers, it was known as the Chinese gooseberry, but beyond the tartness of flavour and the acid-green flesh, the comparison to gooseberries might seem a bit far-fetched. Once cooked down into a jam, however, the taste is uncannily familiar. Perfect for a batch of scones fresh from the oven.

This is one of the easiest jams I’ve ever made. I’d usually rely on my trusty kitchen thermometer to reassure me that it has reached the correct temperature to set properly, but that’s currently out of action, so I had to rely on more traditional methods instead. The combination of fruits are so full of pectin (responsible for the jelly-ish consistency of jam) that it’s virtually impossible to undercook. Your efforts will be rewarded with a deliciously tart jam, speckled attractively with little black seeds.

Afternoon scones with green jam
For the green jam
Prep 10 min
Cook 10 min
Makes 1 jar

6 kiwis
2 granny smith apples, peeled, cored and grated
Juice of 2 limes
250g caster or granulated sugar

For the scones
Prep 10 min
Cook 12 min
Makes 10 scones

200g plain flour
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
40g caster sugar
60g cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
100g natural yoghurt
50g dried currants
1 egg, to glaze (optional)

Peel the kiwis, trim the ends, then quarter lengthways. Remove the white inner flesh along the spine of each quarter and put the fruit in a saucepan.

Add the grated apple, lime juice and sugar, and cook on a medium heat, giving it a brief stir every now and then, so the sugar is evenly distributed. Leave to bubble away for a couple of minutes, then use a potato masher to break up the fruit.

Cook the jam for another five minutes or so. Knowing when it’s done is more a question of consistency than exact timings: once properly cooked, it should have lost most of its water and traded its initial vivid green for a more muted tone. If it has started to brown slightly, it’s just starting to pass the perfect set point, so take off the heat immediately and pour into a sterilised jar. (Or use the cold plate test: spoon a little of the mix on to to to a plate – it should cool rapidly, and allow you to assess the texture; you’re aiming for something thickened and spreadable.)

For the scones, preheat the oven to 200C/390F/gas mark 6. Sieve the flour, salt, bicarb and sugar into a bowl, then add the butter and rub in until there are no big lumps left.

Spoon in the yoghurt. Cut it through the mix with a blunt dinner knife: the aim is to disperse it evenly without doing any heavy-handed overmixing of the dough (to avoid lumpy, tough scones). Scatter in the currants, then give the mix a very brief knead to form it into a dough.

Lightly flour a worktop and a rolling pin. Roll out the dough into a 2.5cm-thick disc. Use a 5cm round cookie cutter to cCut out the scones and lay these on a baking sheet lined with greaseproof paper. Gather the offcuts, roll out and cut again until all the dough has been used up.

Lightly brush the tops of the scones with beaten egg (if using), then bake for 12 minutes, until the tops are a rich, nutty brown.

Swede recipes

18 Nov

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Swede: humble, hearty and, to lots of people, a bit boring. For many years, my sole experience was neeps on Burns Night, or as part of a triumvirate of mashes, school dinner-style. But these two-tone beauties, vibrant purple and off-white, so often reached over for more easygoing parsnips or sweet potatoes, are worth your attention in their own right. They roast as well as they mash and pair brilliantly with spice, especially those with a smoky undertone – smoked paprika, chipotle, cumin, black pepper – which stand up to its sweet backnotes. Cut into batons and roasted, it makes a great alternative to chips, too. Here are two recipes that I cook on repeat.

A smoky swede carbonara
This is not, by any stretch of the imagination, an authentic carbonara, but I use the word to give you an idea of what it will look like: crisp-edged morsels of smoky swede offset the instant silky sauce of eggs and parmesan coating the pasta. Follow the method carefully to make sure you don’t scramble the eggs. I use smoked salt here – it’s easy to find in supermarkets, but use regular sea salt if you prefer.

Prep 5 min
Cook 12 min
Serves 4

Olive oil
300g swede, peeled and cut into 1cm x 3cm batons
Smoked salt or flaky salt
3 eggs
3 tbsp grated parmesan (I use a vegetarian one)
Black pepper
400g spaghetti

Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil. Heat a little olive oil in a frying pan and add the swede, season well with the smoked salt and add a couple of tablespoons of water: leave the swede to simmer until the water is all gone, then continue to cook until it is golden brown and crisp-edged all over but soft in the middle. Turn the heat right down and keep warm.

Crack the eggs into a bowl, add a good grinding (about one teaspoon) of black pepper and the parmesan, and mix well.

Cook the spaghetti according to the packet instructions. Once the pasta is perfectly al dente, use tongs to lift it out of the water and straight into the frying pan with the swede, along with a little of the cooking water – this will cool the pan a little, stop the eggs from scrambling and help the sauce emulsify.

Toss the pasta and the swede together and, once the pan has cooled enough that you don’t hear any sizzling, add the egg mixture. Toss again until all the pasta is coated in sauce – if you need to, add a little more of the cooking water. The eggs and parmesan should come together to coat the pasta in a creamy, silky sauce. Serve immediately with more parmesan and black pepper.

Maple and black pepper roasted swede
I find myself making this again and again. This is very simple, but the flavours work brilliantly. To turn it into a meal, serve on cooked puy lentils alongside wilted greens. Be sure to peel your swede until the green layer under the skin is gone.

5161
Prep 5 min
Cook 45 min
Serves 4

1kg swede, (about 2 swedes), peeled and cut into 2cm thick wedges
Olive oil
Salt and black pepper
1 pinch dried chilli flakes
A few sprigs of rosemary, thyme or sage, leaves picked and roughly chopped
2 tbsp cider vinegar
1 tbsp maple syrup

Heat the oven to 200C/390F/gas mark 6. Put the swede wedges on to a baking tray and drizzle over some olive oil, season well with salt and pepper and add the chilli and herbs. Toss to coat everything, then put into the hot oven to roast for 35-40 minutes until the edges are golden.

When they look good, take them out of the oven and tumble into a bowl, douse with the vinegar and stir. Leave for a couple of minutes to let the vinegar absorb, then add the maple syrup and mix again, and check for seasoning.

Easy recipe for brussels sprout gratin with fennel salami

20 Oct

3085
When it has been this cold and grey for so long, it’s hard to shake yourself from the winter torpor. Thank goodness, then, for the optimism of the pagans: Imbolc, or St Brigid’s Day, is a Gaelic festival at the start of February, halfway between the winter solstice and spring equinox. It’s a celebration of the first signs of spring, and milk-based dishes traditionally mark the occasion. In keeping with that, here’s a creamy-rich gratin studded with salami. Perfect fodder to spoil yourself, and to welcome the lengthening days.

Brussels sprout gratin with finocchiona salami, fennel seeds and breadcrumbs
Brussels sprouts as you never knew them: sweet, tender and with a twist of fennel echoed in the delicious Tuscan salami – you should be able to get that in any Italian deli worth its salt.

Prep 20-25 min
Cook 25 min
Serves 4-6

1kg brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut in half
350ml double cream
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1 bay leaf
30g butter
70g finocchiona salami, slices cut into thick strips
Salt and black pepper
½ tbsp fennel seeds
3 tbsp demerara sugar
4 tbsp olive oil
100g soft white breadcrumbs
50g parmesan (or pecorino), grated

Heat the oven to 180C (160C fan)/350F/gas mark 4. Bring a pan of well salted water to a boil and blanch the sprouts for three to four minutes (depending on size), until just tender, then drain.

Put the cream, two garlic cloves and the bay leaf in a saucepan on a medium-low heat, bring to a simmer and cook gently for five minutes, until the cream has reduced a little.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a frying pan and fry the salami for 30 seconds, just until it starts to release its fat. Stir in the sprouts, season and toss in the hot, buttery fat for a minute. Stir in the infused cream (discard the garli, which has now done its job), then tip the lot into a small baking dish into which the mix fits snugly.

Put the remaining garlic clove, the fennel seeds, sugar and a couple of pinches of salt in a mortar and grind to a paste. Stir in half the oil, then transfer to a bowl and stir in the breadcrumbs and cheese. Toss to combine, then sprinkle on to the gratin. Drizzle the remaining oil over the top and bake for 25-30 minutes, until the top is golden. Leave to rest and cool slightly before serving.

And for the rest of the week…
Saute shavings of leftover salami with savoy cabbage, then drizzle with black butter (butter melted and cooked until nutty and brown) and a grating of parmesan for a tasty and quick lunch (the salami also works well with green beans in summer: cut it into batons and dress in a simple vinaigrette). Sprouts are great in veggie curries, whether Indian or Thai: they add real body and keep their shape.

Vegan potato and cabbage curry recipe

18 Sep

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Today’s recipe is an ancient dish that my ancestors cooked over wooden fires in their village on the Kathiawar peninsula in Gujarat, western India. It’s also something I ate regularly when I got home from school in Lincolnshire, while sitting in front of the telly and watching Neighbours, as well as something I wanted to eat almost every day when I was pregnant. It might be simple and cheap, but it’s also delicious and wholesome, and deserves to continue for many more generations.
Gujarati potato and cabbage curry

My mother uses waxy potatoes such as charlotte or anya in this, because they hold their shape when cooked; I prefer crumbly, fudgy spuds such as maris pipers, which merge into the sauce. Boost the table offering with a dal or spinach curry.

Prep 10 min
Cook 30 min
Serves 4

800g maris piper potatoes, peeled and cut into 2cm cubes
Salt and black pepper
3 tbsp rapeseed oil
1 pinch fenugreek seeds
½ tsp black mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
200g tinned plum tomatoes with their juice (ie, half a tin)
500g white cabbage (ie, half a large one), cored and shredded
1 tsp ground coriander
⅓ tsp turmeric
1 ½ tsp ground red chilli powder
250ml lukewarm water

To serve
Chapatis
Non-dairy yoghurt
Fresh coriander

Put the potatoes in a pan, cover with cold water, add a teaspoon of salt and bring to a boil. Cook until tender, then drain and leave to steam.

While the potatoes are cooking, heat the oil over a medium flame in a large frying pan for which you have a lid. Once it’s very hot, add the fenugreek, mustard and cumin seeds and, when they start to crackle, stir in the onion and fry for six minutes, until soft. Add the garlic, cook for two minutes, then add the tomatoes, tipping them in with one hand and crushing them with the other as they hit the pan. Cook until the tomatoes become concentrated and paste-like and the oil floats to the top – about eight to 10 minutes.

Turn up the heat, add the cabbage and stir until well coated in the tomato mixture, then cover the pan and leave to cook for about 10 minutes, stirring infrequently (every couple of minutes, say), so the cabbage caramelises a little while it softens.

When the cabbage is soft, fold in the potatoes, the ground spices and a teaspoon and a half of salt, and stir gently, so the potatoes don’t break up too much. Add the lukewarm water bit by bit, stirring after each addition, and leave to cook down for five minutes, until the liquid thickens into a sauce. Check and adjust the seasoning, then take off the heat.

Serve generous helpings of the curry with warm chapatis (heat according to the packet instructions) , a large spoonful of non-dairy yoghurt and a couple of sprigs of fresh coriander.

How to cook the perfect… vindaloo – recipe

15 Aug

5470
The peculiar place of vindaloo, a fierily fragrant speciality of Goa in popular culture can be summed up by the 1998 World Cup football anthem of the same name, whose irritatingly catchy chorus references the curry no fewer than 11 times. As the Observer pointed out, its authors, the “prank art collective” Fat Les, “persuaded, among others, a lot of xenophobic, racist Little England football supporters to celebrate an item of Indian cuisine as a quintessential expression of Englishness”. This is despite Goa having been a former Portuguese colony and one of the few parts of India that never saw British rule.

Yet the vindaloo with which most Brits are most familiar – the hottest rung on the generic korma, tikka masala, madras ladder – bears little resemblance to the aromatic, pickle-sour original. Dan Toombs, author of The Curry Guy, dubs them “eight-pint vindaloos”, after the amount of lager needed to finish one. As chef Vivek Singh observes, though vindaloo is probably one of the best- known Indian dishes, “it’s also one of the most misunderstood”.

Thought to be a corruption of the Portuguese carne de vinha d’alhos, or meat cooked in wine vinegar and garlic, an authentic, tangy vindaloo tingles the tongue with pepper, clove and other spices, rather than the one-dimensional heat of chilli powder. So unless you’ve got a Goan specialist nearby, if you want to try the real thing, your best bet is to make it at home.

The masala
Whether or not you use it to marinate the meat before cooking, every curry begins with a masala, or spice mix – and in this instance chilli is not the principal ingredient. Though they all use slightly different combinations and amounts, all the recipes I try contain an array of what we might think of as sweet spices – cinnamon, cloves and cardamom – plus a hefty hit of black pepper, and the earthy, nutty flavours of cumin, coriander and turmeric. Chilli powder is generally added for colour, rather than heat, with Jaffrey recommending “bright red paprika” and Stein and Todiwala specifying Kashmiri chilli powder, sold under that name by Indian brands and remarkable for its brick-like hue. According to one Goan of my acquaintance, vindaloo is defined by its “beautiful, deep-red masala”, so be liberal with the mild chilli for maximum authenticity. Jaffrey and Collingham also use mustard seeds, which win points both for their pleasing texture and the little pops of bitter warmth they release.

The vinegar
Though the Portuguese would have originally used wine vinegar (or, some speculate, simply wine that had soured on the long voyage over), the dish was quickly adapted to the local palm vinegar, made from coconut toddy. Collingham notes that if you can get hold of it, “it will add a particularly Goan flavour” to the dish. I manage to source some coconut vinegar, probably made from coconut water, in an Indian grocers (many Oriental stockists may carry a Filipino brand), but as I’m reliably informed, “it’s really hard to find the legit stuff outside the state of Goa, let alone abroad”, I wouldn’t worry too much about hunting a bottle down. Singh uses a mixture of white and malt vinegar, and Stein white-wine vinegar, but the best substitute I find is Jaffrey’s cider vinegar, which has similar sweet notes to the coconut variety.

The vegetables
Todiwala describes the dish as “a sort of meaty pickle, rich and intense in flavour”, which may explain the extraordinary number of onions in his recipe – but, in fact, their sweetness works brilliantly with the tangy vinegar and rich, slightly fatty meat. Much as I dislike chopping the things, it’s worthwhile labour here, especially if you can find the sweeter Indian pink onion; otherwise, yellow ones will work fine. Liberal amounts of garlic and ginger add to the chutney-like effect: rather than crushing them to a paste, however, slice them into thin rounds and strips as Singh suggests, so they don’t get lost in the whole.

Should you cook with Coolio, Sheryl Crow or Kelis

19 Jul

835The photographer from the Guardian is wearing a curious expression, in which a slightly strained smile does its best to conceal a look of disappointment. It is unmistakably the face of a woman attempting to spare someone’s feelings by pretending to enjoy a black bean quesadilla that she really isn’t enjoying much. “No, it’s nice,” she says, clearly in no great rush to eat any more. Besides, I know it isn’t nice, because I’ve tried one myself. The filling has a bizarre texture: somehow crumbly and claggy at the same time.

The reason I’m cooking black bean quesadillas while a Guardian photographer looks on is because they come with a recommendation from acclaimed Canadian singer-songwriter Leslie Feist. They are one of the recipes in a book she co-authored with chef Adrienne Amato called Pleasures, which details what Feist and her band ate during the making of her 2017 album of the same name. Every track on it has a lunch, dinner and dessert attached to it. And the reason I’m cooking a recipe from Pleasures is because I’m investigating cookbooks written by rock and pop stars. There has been a constant stream of them over the last few years. Rappers, cerebral indie musicians, country music legends and R&B divas alike have felt impelled to share their culinary secrets with the world. What can a music fan and cook of limited abilities learn from them?

The first thing is that their authors have quite a mix of cooking abilities. They range from artists who have trained as chefs – R&B star Kelis is a graduate of the prestigious Cordon Bleu cookery school – to artists who have buddied up with chefs to co-write their books, to artists whose interest seems slightly questionable. Something about the cover of Cookin’ with Coolio – a badly-Photoshopped shot of the rapper apparently flambéing bacon and eggs – which even I know is probably not the best technique – suggests that his enthusiasm for the kitchen might have more to do with prolonging his reality TV career than a lifelong passion for cuisine.

There are books that claim they’ll improve your wellbeing (Sheryl Crow’s If it Makes You Healthy) and books that look like they could kill you. Rapper Action Bronson’s Fuck, That’s Delicious is by some distance the best-written and most entertaining pop cookbook I come across, bursting with knowledge and enthusiasm. But its author is visibly not a man at home to the ascetic health-giving delights of, say, Crow’s brown basmati rice with soy-sage sausage. Put it this way, there’s a photo of him in Japan, shirtless beside some sumo wrestlers and by comparison, the sumo wrestlers look like the “after” photo in a Special K advert. His recipe for “a butcher sandwich the way a guy like me would eat it” contains half a pound of rib-eye steak and involves both buttering the bread and frying it in steak fat, his method for making “the chicken of all fucking chickens” requires three litres of oil, one of his “incredible pairings” reads simply “ten tubs of ice cream and depression”.

Keen to avoid both a physique like Action Bronson’s and/or a visit to the cardiology department, I opt to cook something a little lighter. He claims his two-minute tomato sauce is “the best I ever had”. It’s certainly easy to make – garlic, chillies, basil, tinned tomatoes, salt and pepper – and the end result is fine. If it doesn’t quite live up to its advance billing, perhaps that’s something to do with rappers’ inbuilt capacity for braggadocio. That said, for the purposes of comparison, I make Frank Sinatra’s marinara sauce, from The Sinatra Celebrity Cookbook, and it’s definitely an improvement on that; more garlicky, more flavoursome. Action Bronson 1, Chairman of the Board 0.

I confess to abandoning two of the books without cooking anything from them. I just don’t buy Coolio as a gourmet. There’s no USP to the book, beyond a load of really boring recipes spiced up with the odd “mofo” and “pimpin’” in the method descriptions. Loretta Lynn’s 2006 work You’re Cookin’ it Country, meanwhile, deals in a specific kind of old-fashioned, downhome US cooking that either involves ingredients I can’t find – hominy, catfish – or just sounds, to put it politely, not to my taste. There’s a lot of making casseroles by pouring cream of mushroom soup over minced beef or tinned tuna, and some dewy-eyed reminiscences of Lynn’s childhood in rural Kentucky that make mince floating about in mushroom soup seem like haute cuisine: “Possum is a different-tasting meat, but Daddy loved it.”

I approach Feist’s book with caution, partly because when I open it I’m confronted by a recipe that involves a soup containing halloumi cheese – I love halloumi, but boiling it in soup seems so wrong – and partly because many of the meals are vegan, and veganism and I have previous. I tried a plant-based diet last year, lured by its health benefits, and abandoned it almost immediately, after an ill-starred dalliance with the cookbooks of blogger Deliciously Ella. The taste of one of her dishes in particular, involving roast sweet potato and tahini-dressed avocado, haunted me for weeks. Every time I thought of it, I went off the idea of eating full stop. Keen to avoid a rerun, I opt for the black bean quesadillas in the hope that Mexican spicing will override the lack of dairy.

They are easy enough to knock together, and the song that was apparently recorded fuelled by them – Lost Dreams – is lovely, but the end result is about as far away from the unctuousness of a non-vegan quesadilla as you can get: the only lubrication suggested for the mashed black bean filling is a spritz of lime juice.

I have better luck on the vegan front the following day, with a recipe from Sheryl Crow’s book written by the singer and her chef Chuck White after she beat breast cancer. The book is filled with radiant testimony to the antioxidant and immune-system-boosting qualities of the meals within and, less lovably, terrible posed photos of the singer smiling broadly while stirring saucepans and chopping salad. I make the hot and sour miso soup with tofu and bok choi considerably less healthy by frying the tofu rather than boiling it and slathering it with sriracha. The result is good, a decent midweek supper.